Covering the NFL during the summer months is no easy task. Free agency has come and gone. The NFL Draft is in the rearview mirror, and the regular season is months away. What, then, bridges the gap between now and the start of the season? Training camp coverage, apparently.
Unfortunately, I’m ill-equipped to write about training camp: such coverage, in my opinion, carries the risk of “prisoner of the moment” analysis. For example, during Patriot’s training camp last year, much was made of the emergence of rookie tight end Zach Sudfeld. After showing promise throughout camp, Sudfeld was dubbed “baby Gronk” by some reporters that cover the team … “Baby Gronk” was cut after week three of the regular season. He had zero catches.
To that end, I find it more enjoyable to go back and analyze previous Patriot teams: last week, I wrote of Bill Belichick’s (apparent) inability to find talent through the draft. Two weeks ago, I analyzed all facets of the team, hoping to shed light on why the team’s gone a decade without a Super Bowl title. All that brings me to this week’s topic: with the selection of Jimmy Garoppolo in the second round of this year’s draft, much has been made (PREMATURELY) of Brady’s future. Regardless of how many years Brady has left, let us look back on Brady’s time in New England (UP TO THIS POINT), ranking (from worst to first) each of the 12 teams that Brady has been a part of (excluding 2008 due to injury).
*Remember, the following rankings are based off the talent of each team that Tom Brady was a part of.*
Number 12: The 2009 New England Patriots
With the return of the game’s best quarterback, much was expected of the 2009 Patriots.
after escaping with a victory over the Bills in week one, expectations were tempered.
After the “fourth and two” debacle, little was expected.
Then—following a nationally televised, blow-out loss, at the hands of the New Orleans Saints—nothing was expected.
If ever there was a single play that could encapsulate an entire season, then the 83-yard touchdown run surrendered by the Patriot defense—at home, in the playoffs—to Ray Rice was just that.
Number 11: The 2002 New England Patriots
How—after hoisting the Lombardi Trophy in 2001—did the Patriots fail to make the playoffs in 2002? It wasn’t because of turnover in the roster: absent Bryan Cox, Terry Glenn, and Jermaine Wiggins, the roster remained intact. Further, the coaching staff remained unchanged.
The truth is, the 2002 Patriots served as a reminder that—in the NFL—the margin for error is small. In 2001, the Patriots needed a week 15 win over the Dolphins to win the AFC East; in 2002, the Patriots and Jets finished with identical 9-7 records. With a better record against common opponents, the Jets won the tiebreaker, thus eliminating the Patriots from playoff contention.
Long-winded explanation aside, little separated the 2001 Super Bowl team and the 2002 team that failed to make the playoffs. To that end, the fact that the 02’ team ranks second to last on this list is a testament to the team’s success over the last 12 years.
Number 10: The 2005 New England Patriots
Jake Plummer and the Denver Broncos handed Tom Brady his first postseason loss. That alone is reason enough to put the 2005 roster at the bottom of the rankings. However, there’s a reason why Jake Plummer and the Denver handed Tom Brady his first postseason loss.
Teddy Bruschi suffered a stroke prior to the start of the season. Joe Andruzzi left in free agency. Ty Law, Roman Phifer, and Keith Traylor were released. Ted Johnson retired. 45 different players started for the Patriots during the season. Despite all the aforementioned losses, the Patriots still found a way to win 10 games during the regular season—tip of the cap to you Bill.
Number 9: The 2006 New England Patriots
I can’t stomach going back and revisiting the 2006 team. Forever burned into my memory is the image of Joseph Addai scoring the game-winning touchdown with a little over a minute left in the AFC Championship. And the voice of the Colt’s announcer … I can’t.
I will say this. The Patriots weren’t very good in 2006. They had no business beating the Chargers in the Divisional Round. They had no business losing to the Colts in the AFC Championship. Instead of trying to make sense of it all, let’s forget 2006 ever happened.
Number 8: The 2012 New England Patriots
What to say about the 2012 season? After contemplating, for what now seems like an eternity, I keep arriving at the same, simple conclusion: the 2012 Patriots were forgettable.
Is there anything that sets the 2012 team apart from any of the other 10+ win Patriot teams? Like the two previous Patriot teams, the offense was excellent and the defense was an unmitigated disaster. Unlike the 2011 Patriots, though, the 2012 and 2010 teams folded like a lawn chair when faced with adversity.
I could dig deeper into the 2012 season, but the truth remains the same: the 2012 Patriots—like many other post-04’ teams—were incapable of pushing back when faced with resistance.
Number 7: The 2010 New England Patriots
I rank the 2010 Patriots slightly ahead of the 2012 team, simply because of Brady’s play throughout the 2010 season. Beyond that, though, the above description applies to the 2010 Patriots.
Number 6: The 2013 New England Patriots
If nothing else, the 2013 Patriots were easy to cheer for. Based solely on character, the 13’ Patriots would finish right near the top of the list. Evidenced by the string of late game victories (see New Orleans, Cleveland, Atlanta, Denver), the 13’ Patriots had a fearlessness about them. Unfortunately, much of their success was the result of smoking mirrors.
After losing Danny Woodhead, Wes Welker, Aaron Hernandez, and Rob Gronkowski, Brady was devoid of elite talent at the skills positions. Thus, the Patriots were ill-equipped to keep up with Peyton Manning and the rest of the Denver offense during the AFC Championship game.
*The play of Aqib Talib for the better part of the year pushes the 2013 team ahead of the 2010 team.*
Number 5: the 2011 New England Patriots
It wouldn’t take much convincing to talk me out of putting the 2011 team in the top five. After all, their path to the Super Bowl included Tim Tebow and a missed Billy Cundiff field goal.
Strip away the Super Bowl appearance, and the 2011 Patriots start to resemble the aforementioned 2010 and 2012 teams.
In fairness, the Patriots were one catch away/one good throw away from their first title since 2004.
A healthy Rob Gronkowski would’ve been nice as well.
Truth be told, I don’t know what to think of the 2011 team.
Number 4: The 2001 New England Patriots
The season that started it all. The meteoric rise of Tom Brady. The Super Bowl victory over the “Greatest Show on Turf.” The birth of a dynasty. What does all that get you? Number 4 on the list of Brady-led Patriot rosters; talk about an embarrassment of riches.
Admittedly, it’s difficult to keep the 01’ team out of the top three; the next three, however, are the best Patriot teams I’ve seen.
Number 3: The 2003 New England Patriots
The Patriots victory over the Carolina Panthers tends to get overshadowed by the other two Patriots Super Bowl wins. In fact, the whole season tends to get lost in the shuffle. What should be remembered, however, was how good the 03’ team was—especially on defense.
In 2003, the Patriots defense surrendered both the fewest points per game in the NFL (14.9), as well as the fewest total points in the regular season (238). The numbers don’t reflect how dominant the defense was. New rules were put in place after the 2004 season to better protect wide receivers; this coming after a Colts loss at New England in which Peyton Manning threw four interceptions.
With a dominant defense leading the way, the Patriots went 14-2, winning their second consecutive Super Bowl. Needless to say, the 03’ Patriots are deserving of a spot in the top three.
Number 2: The 2004 New England Patriots
Determined not to rest on their laurels, the Patriots added Pro Bowl running back Corey Dillon to an already talented Super Bowl roster. Dominance ensued; the Patriots went 14-2 during the regular season en route to a third Super Bowl in four years.
Often overlooked – the Patriots lost both Ty Law and Tyrone Poole early in the season. Filling the void left at cornerback: second-year cornerback Asante Samuel, rookie Randall Gay, and wide receiver Troy Brown. The Patriot secondary—referred to as “the replacement secondary” by Eagles wide out Freddie Mitchell—intercepted Donovan McNabb three times in Super Bowl XXXIX. Fittingly, the “replacement secondary” finished with more Donovan McNabb receptions than Freddie Mitchell.
From start to finish, the 2004 Patriots dominated.
Number 1: The 2007 New England Patriots
I’ve made the (unpopular) argument before and I’ll make the same (unpopular) argument again: in the pantheon of sports heartbreak, no fan base has ever experienced such–sole-crushing, life questioning, utterly demoralizing, still haven’t recovered, will never recover–heartbreak, quite like the 2007 New England Patriot fan base. Don’t believe me? Consider what was at stake when the Patriots played the New York Giants in the 2007 Super Bowl:
- A perfect 19-0 record, of which has never occurred in the NFL;
- A chance for Tom Brady and Bill Belichick to solidify their standing as the greatest quarterback and greatest coach of all-time; and
- A chance to go down as the greatest team in NFL history.
Then, just like that, it was gone.
One devastating loss aside, the 2007 New England Patriots were like no other team I’ve seen in the NFL. What the 2007 New England Patriots accomplished was that of lure. An offensive juggernaut that saw 50 Tom Brady touchdown passes, 23 Randy Moss touchdown receptions, and 110 Wes Welker receptions. On defense, the Patriots finished 4th in the NFL in team defense, featuring 3 All- Pro defenseman (Vince Wilfork, Mike Vrabel, Asante Samuel).
The list of accolades goes on and on, but the truth remains: the 2007 Patriots will forever be remembered as the greatest team not to win a Super Bowl. Damn.
What do you think? Was the 2007 team the best of the Brady/Belichick era?